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GRE Argument Essay: Rhesus Monkeys And Stimulation - With A Free Essay Review

Prompt: “The following appeared as part of a letter to the editor of a scientific journal.

‘A recent study of eighteen rhesus monkeys provides clues as to the effects of birth order on an individual's levels of stimulation. The study showed that in stimulating situations (such as an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey), firstborn infant monkeys produce up to twice as much of the hormone cortisol, which primes the body for increased activity levels, as do their younger siblings. Firstborn humans also produce relatively high levels of cortisol in stimulating situations (such as the return of a parent after an absence). The study also found that during pregnancy, first-time mother monkeys had higher levels of cortisol than did those who had had several offspring.’ Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.”

From a recent study of eighteen rhesus monkeys, the author strives to draw a conclusion that individual levels of stimulation are impacted by the birth order. A series of robust inference based on the experiments are derived to substantiate the new findings: The basic facts are: cortisol hormone, which primes the body for increased activity levels, is closely related with the levels of stimulation. Based on this information, researchers want to understand whether the birth order impacts the stimulation by measuring cortisol levels as barometer of stimulation levels. With this idea, the experimenters group the monkeys by their birth order and conduct experiments under stimulating situations, then measure the cortisol hormone levels under experimental conditions. Results indicate firstborn infant monkeys produce twice as much cortisol hormone compared to other offspring. Similar studies were implemented on human beings grouped by age and monkey mothers grouped by giving-birth time. And the first-time objects all have higher level of cortisol, indicating higher stimulation level. Clearly then, to the experts the birth order is an influential factor of stimulation levels.

All of the above coherent derivations logically lead to the conclusion, except for one invalidated underlying assumption that birth order is the only angle to describe the experimental groups, thereby exclusively decide the hormone cortisol and hence stimulation levels. Although the mechanism is flawless, the assumption is too hasty. Without affirmative answer to the exclusivity, one could easily make up an alternative explanation.

Nervousness, for example could be a valid answer to illuminate the experiment result. It is true to argue the birth order is the most outstanding feature shared by the high level cortisol group, but the first-time mothers also share the nervousness, both monkey and human being. They both feel nervousness when having the first experience of giving birth, physically and psychologically. The highly vigilant mood could also make them sensitive to the unfamiliar visitors simply because they are extremely stressful about the unknown future. The increase of stimulation level also indicates the high level of the cortisol. We could assume, at least I found no indication of inappropriateness, the cortisol levels of the children could be positively correlated with the mothers. This assumption could then help us explain why when first-time mothers are suffering from nervousness and hence high stimulation levels, their offspring will also show the same characteristics. To summarize the alternative argument, nervousness is closely associated with the birth order. It is clearly that mothers are more nervous at the first time than following. This nervousness will lead to the increase of stimulation levels. More importantly, it is possible that the physical and psychological conditions will impact the new born offspring, leaving the first-time infants with high stimulation levels. To be just more cautious, the nervousness might not be so professional noun, but I refer it to any common features shared by the first-time mother and children, distinguishing them from the rest group. The research group could strengthen their conclusion by excluding the other possible features.

[I am personally not quite sure how to arrange the article structure: 1. should I reduce the first section which unfolds the logical structure of the original statement. 2. My personal thought is that if only giving out one alternative explanation,and if I should reduce the first part, then hard to make the argument reaching the required length. Making another alternative explanation based on the same logic makes no sense. Or should I still try to find another angle to provide the second explanation? Or should I focus on this one and try to expand the reasoning? If so, could you please shed some lights on how to do so? Really appreciate it!]


Essay Review

Yes, the first part of your essay, dealing with the original argument, is too long. It’s not responding to the prompt, and you can reasonably expect that your reader will not give you much credit for that. You can instead briefly summarize the original argument in one or two sentences and then refer again to the original argument as necessary in the course of your presentation of the alternative explanation. Devote most time to elaborating that alternative explanation since that is what you will earn points for.

So you begin your alternative explanation by claiming that nervousness might explain the higher levels of cortisol during pregnancy in first-time mother monkeys. Note that you don’t explicitly state that it might explain higher levels of cortisol, but rather you state, much less precisely, that nervousness “could be a valid answer to illuminate the experiment result.” Note also that you claim that human mothers are likely to be nervous too, but there are no findings related to pregnant humans than need explanation (I understand there are other reasons for mentioning human mothers here, but those reasons are not clear until the argument is further developed). So let’s say in a revision aimed at maximum clarity you end up with something like this: “If cortisol levels are indicative of the level of stimulation, then it is plausible that nervousness explains the finding that during pregnancy, first-time mother monkeys had higher levels of cortisol than did those who had had several offspring; a nervous mother is more stimulated than a calm mother.” What then? Well presumably one could then explain why one thinks first-time mothers are likely to be nervousness (it’s a new, possibly frightening experiences, and so), which you do up to a point. But what then? I think at this point one should begin to realise that the original argument doesn’t make any claims about those higher levels of cortisol, nor does it make any claims linking those higher levels to the high levels found in firstborn monkeys. Now you may think that the author of the original argument is offering the fact that first-time mothers present with elevated cortisol levels as an explanation of the fact that firstborn infants have relatively high levels of cortisol in stimulating circumstances, but in that case, first, you should mention that fact, and, second, you should note that it means that nervousness, as you introduce it in relation to the mothers, doesn’t really offer an alternative explanation.

It is important, in other words, to be absolutely clear what you are trying to come up with an alternative explanation for. It cannot be the fact that first-time mothers have high levels of cortisol because that fact is not explained in the original argument. What you are trying to explain is the fact that firstborn infant monkeys produce up to twice as much of the hormone cortisol as do their younger siblings. The offered explanation is that it has something to do with birth order itself (with the possible implication that it might be related to high levels of cortisol in the mother).

So what exactly is your alternative explanation? Well, you go on to say that “the highly vigilant mood (it’s not clear what you mean by this) could also make them (grammatically, “them” refers to mothers, but given what follows, that doesn’t make sense) sensitive to the unfamiliar visitors simply because they are extremely stressful about the unknown future.” It looks like what you intended to talk about here is the fact that firstborn monkeys exhibit high cortisol levels in stimulating situations. If that is the case, you will need to work on communicating your ideas as clearly and straightforwardly as possible. But, again, I don’t think you are offering an alternative explanation if you are arguing that the mother’s nervousness is somehow communicated to the first-born child.

That said, I think you are close to a plausible alternative explanation here. If “nervousness” is part of an alternative explanation, then I think the argument would have to go something like this: Firstborn infants exhibit higher levels of cortisol not primarily because they are first born (and so the levels of cortisol in first-time mothers is irrelevant to this alternative explanation) but because stimulating situations just are more stimulating to them in the absence of the possibly calming presence of older siblings. (One could go on a bit about why one might think older siblings might be a calming presence, but I won’t do that here.) That is, whereas the original argument assumes the order of birth is the direct cause of the cortisol levels, one might argue instead that the phenomenon can be explained by the circumstances that a firstborn infant finds itself in.

I don’t know if these comments help much, but I hope they don’t cause you dismay. This particular prompt is obviously one of the most difficult of the GRE argument prompts, and, in my view, it is also a poorly worded prompt.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: sicong


Hello EJ, this is very helpful, I think I need to highlight the link between the stimulation increase of mother and that of the children. Meanwhile strengthen the description about the how nerveness impact the coristol.
June,06 2012

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